Poetry Worth Hearing: Episode Two
You will find here the texts of the poems in Episode Two (anchor.fm/kathleen-mcphilemy) as well as background information about the poets and details of their publications. If you would like to submit to Poetry Worth Hearing please send your 4 minute recording to email@example.com. Further information about how to submit can be found in the post on December 7.
A B Jackson is our headline reader. Andrew was born in Glasgow and studied English Literature at the University of Edinburgh. His first book, Fire Stations, won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection in 2003. In 2010 he won first prize in the Edwin Morgan International Poetry Competition, and his second collection, The Wilderness Party (Bloodaxe Books, 2015), was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. The Voyage of St Brendan was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2021. He has a PhD in Creative Writing from Sheffield Hallam University and currently lives in Leeds. We are grateful to him and Bloodaxe for allowing us to use this recording.
Still in Place
The logs that were a tree—
bare-branched but alive
when the lockdown began—
are weathered now.
Shielded by balcony railings,
I spoke to those who cut it down;
they said it had been made unsafe
by high winds.
And now those stars dotted white
among low-clustering leaves—
they bloomed when summer came too early—
are also fading into the ground.
The ivy stems dried into the bark,
the seeping cuts dried into wood,
as if those segments
had always lain scattered on the bank,
exactly in place.
On my balcony, even the rosemary withers,
but for days in my fridge all was green,
a whole shelf of herbs like a garden plot,
bunches each lined up in a glass of water,
like flowers in a vase, to keep them fresh:
parsley, celery greens, sage,
and the mint you gave me from the allotment,
enclosed in the dark and cold,
lighting up, green, every time I opened the door.
For my sister, after a song by Gianmaria Testa
New like an old song in the throat of the singer
when for the first time she sings the first note,
new like a word learned in an unfamiliar language
that tickles your tongue and your mind,
new like turning a page and writing your next word
in the blank top left corner,
new like a woman deftly slicing a cake
that she herself baked at a friend’s request,
new like the flame of a candle lit in February,
new like spring, the season that has not arrived,
but will always come again.
Acorns gleamed in the autumn sun—
rich shades of coffee and cinnamon—
among grass blades still green.
Passing by oaks, I bent
to choose an acorn for my palm,
its smoothness for my company.
Too late—I found
that earth and hidden rot
had claimed the underneath.
Inge Milfull is half German, half Australian. She grew up in Germany and has lived and worked in Oxford for most of the last two decades. She now writes mostly in English. She has been involved with the long-running local group Back Room Poets almost as long as she has lived in Oxford and runs one of their poetry workshops.
You watched The Fly at the movies, back
in 58, and ran through the coal black.
You were sucked out of the graveyard, shrieking
in time with your mother. You were seeking
a journey home, away from hostile stone
and the frights that the righteous cannot clone.
You laughed by streetlamps, speckles in the night.
Each one like a luminous runway light.
Between mum sharing this story with me, and now,
the information (stimulus) was converted
- the bases of my memories.
Like muscle memories.
I want to hold that night in my hands.
Keep it safe.
Like new chemical bonds.
I don’t want the night to die in a dark graveyard.
Hopefully, my synapses have grown big enough.
Stephen Wren was educated at Cambridge and works as a Senior lecturer at Kingston University.
Stephen’s poetry can be read at www.stephenpaulwren.wixsite.com/luke12poetry and you can find him on Twitter @Stephen34343631.
His chapbook 'A Celestial Crown of Sonnets' was written with Sam Illingworth and published by Penteract Press in March 2021.
Sight The sun is an old coin falling into peat. An aureole sneaks around hare’s ears. She lowers them and folds into grass but lifts her nose to the quiet light. The farmer turns his gun away. His eyes burn with after-images of gold.
Birth A trespasser slips under the fence leaving streaks of green in dew-cobwebbed grass. She comes with the dawn in a tangle of smoking breath, shadow boxing with birch shadows. A russet and black apparition whose eyes glitter and flame with Betelgeuse. New life knocks at her belly, impatient for the taste of fresh grass. I watch her from the window as she races the merlin over the meadow leaving two bleary eyed leverets under the rosemary bush.
Diana Sanders is a poet and sound artist who lives and works in North Wales. She takes much of her inspiration from the Welsh landscape, its wildlife and people. Her latest project is a collaboration with eight poets of the North West, recording their words and setting them to music. More information can be found at Diana Sanders - Poet and Sound Artist | Facebook
carry my men
within your warm sides
out on the water
bring them back
and kelp keep watch
leave the machair over darkness
the sweet-smelling flowers do not trust
make for the sea cunning
flee ocean storms
waves kiss the rocks
in flurries of spume sister
winds snatch and play my holy one
with the water fly over the water
rippling and sparkling bring back my men
round the headland
clear in the sun
open your wings
over the sea
carry your riders
their fishing grounds
bulge out their nets
Bill Jenkinson started writing around 2010, after one of Giles Goodland’s Writing Poetry classes, partly because he was leaving full-time work. He is greatly inspired and assisted by the poets he has met in Oxford Stanza 2. He is currently working on a set of poems under the working title, The Islands. Original photos taken by Alfred James Jenkinson, 1877-1928, on a visit to Iniskea North and Inisglora, March 26 – April 6 1902
Other poems from this sequence can be found in Episode 1.
The only thing she knew about love
was that chemistry was important.
Sex with her first flamed into a
white magnesium glare:
they kept the curtains closed
until it burnt out leaving grey powder.
With her second the flames were
smaller but an attractive apple green
and his verdigris eyes were
attractive too, but they weathered into
a passionless calm.
And then the third: explosive like
potassium at the first tears,
leaving charred wreckage.
Her last firmly gathered up
the chemistry set, threw it away,
suggested she progress to biology,
and asked her to remove her metaphors.
Ruth Aylett teaches and researches computing in Edinburgh. Her poems are widely published in magazines (eg. The North, Butcher’s Dog, Prole) and anthologies (eg. Mancunina Way, Umbrellas of Edinburgh) and her pamphlet Pretty in Pink, about the lives of woman, was published in Feb 2021 by 4Word, and her next, Queen of Infinite Space, is due out Nov 21 with Maytree. For more see http://www.macs.hw.ac.uk/~ruth/writing.html
Louise Larchbourne edits academic books, for Oxford University Press among others, and is an actor and a voice artist. Her poems are in The Very Best of 52, For Jeremy Corbyn, and other anthologies. She also runs Ekphrasis Poetry at the Ashmolean which it is hoped will start up again in the post-Covid near future. In this interview she talks to me about the tragic life of her mother, the poet, Rosamund Stanhope, about her poetry, her poetic influences and her publishing history as well as what it was like to be her daughter and how the relationship affected Louise's own life and writing. Because I have had to cut the interview drastically in order to fit it into the time available, I add here a slightly fuller version of what Louise told me.
Rosamund Stanhope was born in 1919. She came from a wealthy family and was sent to an exclusive girls' boarding school, Although she was extremely able, girls at that time at that sort of school were not encouraged to go to university. Instead, she went to drama school, and then at the outbreak of war, she was evacuated to Exeter. She is described as a beautiful rebel who was happy to pursue male students from the different colleges. Later, during the war, she served as a WREN. However, one of the students she had met at Exeter had created a lasting impression, perhaps because, ironically in the light of later events, he seemed quiet and 'gentle'. At the end of the war, Stanhope wrote several times to this young man and when she received no response, followed this up by sending him a gift, perhaps a shirt or a tie. This did achieve results and they were married in 1945. What Stanhope did not know and her new husband did not tell her until after they were married was that he suffered from epilepsy, brought on apparently by injuries suffered since he had first met her and by an episode of peritonitis. Not only that, but he turned out to have a seriously violent streak which manifested itself first when the couple were having a play water-fight which escalated into serious violence when he beat her up. Understandably, she left him. She moved away and became involved with a married man with whom she had an affair and by whom she became pregnant. However, instead of going off with this new partner as he apparently wished, Rosamund left him and went back to her husband. Louise was not to discover until she was nearly fifty that Rosamund's husband was not her father.
After the couple got back together, his behaviour became more sadistically violent and his attitude to Louise, the child, was aggressive and hostile. Both parents were working full-time; both were teachers. He taught languages, she taught English. Rosamund was working flat out. She was a mother, a teacher, she had to do all the driving as her husband was unable to drive because of his epilepsy and she was taking a four-year external degree in English. She had previously returned to the Central School of Drama to train as a teacher but she had never gained a degree. When the horrific accident occurred which changed her life, and that of her husband and child, she was already close to a breakdown. Louise describes in the interview how a quarrel during some DIY work led to her husband pushing Rosamund down the stairs, breaking her back. She was initially paralysed, but did recover to the extent where she could walk again, but had to use a stick. From then on, she was never well. Terrible depression led to ECT treatment and later , she suffered from what Louise now believes was bowel or colon cancer. Louise, who had not been at home on the day of the accident, found herself in the role of carer. What she did not realise was that her mother's depression stemmed in part from fears for her daughter's safety; she wanted Louise to go to boarding school; her husband wanted Louise at home because he was afraid of outsiders becoming aware of his epilepsy which had already cost him one job. Louise argues that her mother's fears were completely unfounded, that her 'father' had never been violent towards her and that, in any case, following the accident all the violence went out of him. She describes him as 'gutted' and says that he died young. Asking herself why her mother had stayed in this dysfunctional relationship, Louise does remember moments, including one almighty row when her mother announced she was leaving giving rise to a heated discussion about who would take what and who would be responsible for what which became so absurd that both eventually cracked up laughing.
Astonishingly, through this turbulent and extremely busy career, Stanhope continued to write. Louise remembers the not entirely welcome sound of the typewriter which echoed through her childhood. Stanhope's first published poem appeared in The Poetry Review, edited at that time by Muriel Spark. Louise recalls hearing that other poems had been accepted by Time and Tide, John O'London's Weekly, the TLS the Anglo-Welsh Review and one in the New Statesman. Her first book, So I Looked Down to Camelot was published in 1962 by Scorpio Press while her second two volumes appeared much later in the late 1990s and early 2000s from Peterloo Press. There is no real clue as to the order of composition in these collections although Louise feels the character of her mother's writing changed after the accident, becoming more reflective, more satirical and less intensely lyrical.
Reading her work, it is obvious how important the tradition of English poetry is to Stanhope. Louise talks about the influence of Dylan Thomas, Gerard Manley Hopkins, the Metaphysicals and further afield of the Mabinogion and the work of Yeats. Apparently, she loved both Wales and Ireland. Louise also identifies the work of Norman Nicholson as important and feels that Nicholson and her mother have shared themes. On the other hand, she loathed Dryden and Tennyson and her take on the Lady of Shalott was an affirmative, feminist one:
I tore the page!
The mirror cracked from edge to edge
I saw the new sky grow...
'So I Looked Down to Camelot'
A reasonably accurate outline of the poet's life can be found in Wikipedia. I was interested in how this history had affected Louise, both in her life and as a poet. Despite living most of her life in a relatively confined circle, Stanhope seems to have had a dramatic, even assertive, personality, and although her daughter was immensely important to her , she seems to have wanted the relationship to be on her terms. Louise remembers, at the age of seven, when at school she expressed a wish to be a mathematician, her mother firmly told the teacher that her career would be in literature. Notwithstanding this, she did not seem very keen on Louise competing in the field of poetry. Consequently, Louise was caught in a double bind where she was expected to excel but had to avoid seeming to offer any threat as a rival. Perhaps as a result, Louise has had an uneasy relationship with poetry. She had early success when she left home and was living in Birmingham, particularly with what we might now call 'spoken word'. She brought out a collection when in her twenties but has not published a full collection since. Interestingly, despite her aversion to "misery memoirs' she feels it is only now that she can tackle the material of her childhood and her relationship with her mother in poetry.
Note: So I Looked Down to Camelot was republished by Flood Editions in 2020.
ASKED THE WOOD
One, two, buckle my shoe,
Three, four, knock at the door.
What are you looking for?
asked the edge
of the wood.
What you know now, was all
I knew then to answer.
And I followed hints in
like Gretel – flower
The wood’s new spangle and I
grow acquainted: celandine
mats, a primrose patch
bloom on the nerve
of my unfed sight, hitch
into my carrying head.
Comes a fork in the jack-
knife path, come spikes
of light, neon moss
clefts of laughter jinking
Have you found it yet?
called the edge
of the wood.
I could only just hear.
I was deeply in.
One, two – I walk under
the over storey, over
the ground’s story, carrying
spangle and laughter
into a thickening quiet.
One, two – comes cooler
and darker. Still-asleep
trunks pillar last year’s
leaf ash, elf cups
ruby the log litter.
Wood, why are the cogs
of your spring wound so tight
further in? I call out.
The heart of the wood
was all round – too close
perhaps to call back?
I was deeply in.
burst the bare air, no
bubble of sun. Boughs
leaned like joists.
How do you do your ‘both/
and’ … I ask the un-
answering wood …
both comfortless here
as a ruin, and a project
Comes a rise
in the root-knuckle floor,
comes a fold in the wood
– just an inside pleat (I say
to myself), trading like
and I climb, buoyed
by low expectations.
trading like for un-
like’s more like it :
the crest yields a wide
lining a combe
sucking on light through
flattering every gnarled
still holding its breath
(a stench to come –
the zestful stench of
wild garlic flowers)
Is there anything
more? asked the wood
through the quiet.
One, two – no I shake
under the stems
I thought I saw
a lain-down face
a woodwose giant getting
over his dream
of night winds shoving
the winter moon, lightning
splitting the oaks’
held time, veins
of bird-seizing ice.
Three, four – comes
what, comes next?
The green Jack’s beard
is tangled with shoots, his eye-
lid flickers on jasper light, his mouth
is stoppered with leaves—
* The wild man of the woods or woodwose is a mythical figure of medieval European tradition and culture.
Lucy Ingrams has won the Manchester Poetry Prize (2015) and the Magma Poetry Competition (2016). Her poems have been widely published in print and online. Her pamphlet, Light-fall, is published by Flarestack Poets. Her poem 'Wind Whip' can be heard in the first episode.
I learned life can be a bastard
in the stud potted rugby field:
two days a week from September
to December of private school
conscription where I got my arse
kicked. I remember Flanker Josh
on the edge of the scrum, he
specialised in squashed ribs
and his best mate Doug
cut you off at the knees.
There was Christian, the size
of a Viking axe who could score
a try by running with three of us:
barnacles on his coral reef thigh.
We had Crazy Dmitri, he ran
cheetah fast but did not last long.
His lungs smoked too hard.
Then there was me, I was
not the fittest one or best card
but second row in the scrum.
I was the shyest ball handler
in the team, hated being
the centre of any attention
as it only brought black eyes
and a bloody nose from refereed
bullies and afternoon psychopaths.
I begged Maskery to release me
from the brown carpet, purple bruises.
Maskery replied: “Michael it will be alright.”
I learned to survive the tides.
I went as far north as I could
without hitting the Highlands.
I still remember the flash image
of mum who waved me off.
A watermark just
under her left eye.
It was the sign
a bend was turned.
Here in the Athens of
the North I started
to learn the world
and forge my path.
I was made to work,
find what I want.
Given the chance
to earn self-esteem.
Discover a degree
is a means to even
the student newspaper,
love and boxing.
Michael Klimes is a pensions journalist. He has attended several online poetry classes at City Lit taught by John Stammers, Billie Manning and Ella Frears.
He has been published in City Lit’s 2020 anthology Between the Lines.
Lang Lang's piano tuner
Lang Lang says he takes his piano tuner
everywhere – it’s as if he folds him and tucks him
into his top pocket, neat as a handkerchief,
beside a tuning fork pronged like a beak;
when the piano tuner is alone with the Steinway
in Central Park or the Mirror Room at Versailles
with mutes to isolate strings, his ear to the wires,
he pings the tuning fork till it sings like a bird;
Lang Lang sits at the piano - his hands hover,
splay-fingered as wings, poised to invoke thunder
from his fingertips, ripple like liquid over
the keys, stroke the black and white of them,
evoke the blackbird and dove of them
until murmurations of minims quaver the air
as birdsong flies from the piano's throat
note after perfectly-tuned note.
Heron in Port Meadow
A fizz of wasps stripe blades of grass
dock leaves rub the nettle stings
worms tunnel down to explore the earth
for this is how the meadow sings
A darkly cloaked intrusion of rooks
alters the shape of the sky
among trees the winged explosion
turns autumn leaves to butterflies
Wonder at the small things
the coal-black beetle and the fly
the hawkmoth that hums while it dusts itself
as waxwing sighs his whistling sigh
The heron is here - a preacher poised
in the meadow's sudden hush,
a venerable thing about to preach
on lark song and the flight of the thrush
Cracking the blackbird’s egg
My voice is muffled
as if hushing expletives,
my heart flashes hazard lights;
as dawn switches on the day
my breath labours air
from bellows; I stretch
my arms, reach out to touch
the invisible membrane,
wait for the day to crack
open the blue with its offering
of far-off birds that freckle
the shell of the morning
like a blackbird’s egg.
It might be better if we just laid an egg
not have a womb loaded
like a gun at war
waiting for the big push
just a womb snug as a nest
that lets the oval egg
bask in its heat
in a fluid-sheened shell
cuddle it in cupped hands
listen to its heart tick
bathe it in a warm bath
as if bobbing for apples
wrap it in an old cardi
until the day ‘tap tap’
a crack opens like a door
and out comes a baby
fully formed and perfect
with none of the faff
Sarah Macleod lives in Abingdon near the river. She worked at Wadham College in Oxford but is now retired. She has two children and three grandchildren. She has had poems published in Mslexia, Inclement, Ver Poets, Iron Press, a prize in Grey Hen, two poems in Edward Thomas Fellowship, commended for Indigo pamphlet and longlisted twice in Cinnamon Press pamphlet competitions. She does silversmithing, linoprinting, makes chandeliers and automata.
The art of the tie
My tie’s an abstract zing amid this room of piled up papers,
plans for flood defence,
marked up in red,
every action logged and justified, times claimed
by code but no stacks of
kindling for poet’s lines,
just this scrap of cloth.
King Louis hired Croatian
men to fight his wars,
liked their look and took it to his court.
For this I wear a tie.
A man’s neckwear shows how he wants to be
seen, and his footwear
how he sees himself. My shoes are bruised
and tie, a jazz sweep
of half-blended blues,
rose and arcs of flame,
it singes every note
and longs for air.
Normally I hate them,
strangulation, but for now
its art evokes a me of incandescent sparks.
Lying in the road Heading east from Nairobi,
dust lines my window, the taxi headlights dim as breath in the gloom.
The road is crumpled,
cars slide past too near to touch,
billboards tell me banks care for me,
mobiles carry whispers, a Coke will change my life.
An animal lies in the road,
the long neck of a giraffe
or a trousered leg with a man’s head turned away.
The taxi-man dismisses
‘a drunk from the slum’,
steers past and I think
about calling the police,
at night, in Kiswahili. We drive on and darkness
swallows the road, the thought and the man.
Richard Lister draws you into stories of intriguing people, places and cultures. His poetry is ‘a celebration of ordinary magic perceived by a keen eye’. Richard’s work is carved into the Radius sculpture, published in 7 collections and exhibited at Leith Hill Place. He works to address poverty in Africa and Asia. He also has a poem in Episode 1.
Lost She says she can describe her grief as an irregular shape, heavy: says she can’t put it on a diagram of her body. It doesn’t fit, it exists in a nebulous way, changes colour when she’s not looking. She says a mirror will not show us people from the past. The faces of the dead are faded and forgotten, in time. Each of us has our own life cycle. We know this. When I am lost, she says I do not find my way home by instinct, or by the stars or by the full round moon. I rely on roads, signposts, maps, technology - or maybe find someone to walk with me, even if that person also feels untethered. Perhaps that is better, to find the way, together?
Memories We start in the back room, where you have a bureau stuffed with letters, cards, invites, old ribbons, badges travel brochures, holiday mementos, pens, envelopes in every size, a box containing shrapnel, more pens, chocolates, white with age, an old book - a school prize, unwritten cards with mismatched envelopes, a miniature carved ivory vase, perished elastic bands, old photos, loose. A box of photos. Another envelope, stuffed with £20 notes. We count £360. You puzzle over that, try to rationalise why it’s there, like the money we found in the saucepans and the cash in the sponge bag. You put those thoughts aside when you open the next box – you want to tell me the story for everything, try to remember who’s who in the black and white images, and faded Polaroids. I have to push – so little time. Keep it? Throw it? Or give it away? Your decision making has evaporated. We stop for lunch. I bring you salad and sandwiches in the garden. You lean back, close your eyes against the sun leaving your food half-eaten, and sleep, your chin dropping to your chest, your neck unsupported. Exhausted. As you sleep I clean and de-clutter, start making my own judgements, discarding some things, filling a charity box, putting aside stuff to keep, filling my car with objects you have wavered over, to store for later consideration. When you rouse I bring you tea and cake on a tray and just one shoe box at a time of the bureau treasures. Every now and then a breeze blows in and lifts up a flimsy memory, to flutter it away, as free as a hedge sparrow.
Sarah J Bryson has had poems published in print journals, anthologies and on line. She was a regular participant, during the Covid pandemic, in a weekly on-line arts event, combining photographs with haiku style poetry and has recently had several poems on the Poetry and Covid site.https://poetryandcovid.com/poems/index-of-poets-and-poems/ She too had a poem in Episode 1.
You’ve been a while now with the roses,
cutting away excess buds, spoilt flowers.
It’s a job I can’t face, this shortening of life.
From the competition of leaves you pluck a feather,
It won’t lie flat, its backbone slips
to one side. Along the length, a tie-dye of colour
graduates from caramel to charcoal brown
and, despite your thumb draggling filaments,
soothing the barbs, a gap remains.
You map its imperfection. My belly tightens,
feels again your light touch on raw scar. Judging.
In the wash of light beyond the back door,
butterflies balloon through purple buddleia,
shadows circle, wait for evening to land.
Cuckoo Pen, Wittenham Clumps
They say doubt darkens things. That’s when I go there –
squeeze through the running-stitch hedge,
skitter the track's shingle in my hurry to wade
through bur marigold, buckbean, twayblade.
Then the climb high to forever air
where the beech trees shush and swish
like straw talking, and all around me the grass
turns grey with the darkening of the shorter day.
I suppose it’s what we do, for the sake of light –
take an unfledged cuckoo, pen it in with bush
and wattle, let it grub quietly, listen for its note
of hope, forgetting its wings will grow,
forgetting it will fly away, believing
summer can be secured that way.
Let Me Help You Choose
that’s the right weight.
Place it on your chest so you can feel it
press through your skin. Don’t panic
as it lodges inside your lungs, or rises up
your throat. Clamp your lips together,
let it knock against your teeth. Keep it in.
The rush of air, the pressure on the roof
of your mouth, the keening will split
your nostrils, crack your lips.
It will feel a lot like grieving.
SO I have known this life, These beads of coloured days. . . (John Masefield)
So I have known this life,
full of blackberry-wild afternoons,
where field lines were freckled with trees
and low light stretched the shadows of sheep
and elderberries bloomed on ruby-pink stems.
Don’t dawdle in a turned-to-dust field
or breathe a past you cannot live.
Instead, take that track to the old rabbit-run,
find the two squashed beds of green
where deer have lain side by side
and left behind their broken warmth.
Seek out that bramble hedge
where I reached out. Make that soft pull,
break the connection between fruit and stem,
let its blackberry kiss stain your lips,
linger on your tongue,
and know that we were the string that threaded
these beads of coloured days.
Jules Whiting, obtained an MA in creative writing from Bath Spa University. Her poems have appeared in Orbis, South, Envoi, The Interpreters House, The High Window, Haibun Journal and various anthologies including Stanley Spencer Poems, Two Rivers Press, Best of British,PaPer Swans Press, What the Peacock Replied, Dempsey& Windle. She has recently published, with Vic Pickup, a pamphlet in the Stickleback series: Stickleback XXVI, Hedgehog Press, January 2022.